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Golfgate: Who were the public figures at this week's controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner?

81 people are said to have attended the event in Clifden this week.

IT’S THE DINNER that’s plunged the Government into turmoil.

Last night, the Irish Examiner published explosive revelations that TDs and Senators were among more than 80 people who attended a function at a hotel on Wednesday night.

The event, hosted by the Oireachtas Golf Society in Galway to honour late Fianna Fáil MEP Mark Killelea Junior, came a day after the government re-introduced new guidelines aimed at combatting the spread of Covid-19.

Eighty-one people are said to have attended the event, with the room divided into two. Up to 10 people were seated at tables.

The controversy has led to a garda investigation, the resignation of a minister, and pressure on an EU Commissioner and Supreme Court judge.

Six senators – three each in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – have also lost their party whips, and there have been calls to recall the Dáil from its summer break to discuss the scandal.

Nearly 24 hours after the story first broke there is still strong public anger towards those who attended – if anything, it’s only intensified throughout the day.

But just which politicians and office-holders were at the dinner?  

Dara Calleary

0009 FF Parliamentary Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary (file photo) Source: RollingNews.ie

The former Agriculture Minister, who has resigned over his attendance at the event, was appointed as Barry Cowen’s replacement less than four weeks ago.

Calleary attended the event with his wife Siobhan, and sat at a table with Independent TD Noel Grealish, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, and former Fianna Fáil minister Noel Dempsey and his wife Bernadette.

He had come in for immediate criticism after the story broke last night because he attended a Cabinet meeting the previous day where the government agreed to introduce a range of new Covid-19 measures.

They included guidelines that no private events, parties or gatherings involving more than six people should be held indoors, and that a maximum of 50 people – including hotel staff and any other event support workers – could attend public events.

Speaking on RTÉ News on to explain the new regulations on Tuesday evening, Calleary said “we all have a part to play” in fighting Covid-19, before criticising people for attending house parties.

“Those gatherings cannot continue,” he said. “Covid loves to party.” 

Last night, the Fianna Fáil TD apologised “unreservedly” for attending the golf event before confirming his resignation this morning.

Speaking to Midwest Radio later in the morning, Calleary said he “made a big mistake”.

“I shouldn’t have gone to the function. I didn’t want to let people down and I take responsibility for that mistake,” he said.  

“I’ve let people down, I’ve angered a lot of people, I’ve stressed a lot of people that had to make very difficult calls in the last six months about family funerals etc.” 

Phil Hogan

file-photo-eu-commissioner-phil-hogan-also-attended-the-80-person-dinner-which-led-to-the-resignation-of-minister-dara-calleary-end EU Commissioner Phil Hogan (file photo) Source: samboal; Sam Boal

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan is also among those facing questions over his position.

Hogan, who is a former Fine Gael TD and minister, was nominated to be the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in 2014.

Many have asked whether the Brussels-based commissioner restricted his movements before attending the event after travelling from Belgium – which is not on Ireland’s travel ‘green list’ – as required under HSE guidelines.

In a statement on Twitter this morning, Hogan claimed he had restricted his movements in recent weeks – and also that he was assured by the event’s organisers that the arrangements in place complied with the government’s public health guidelines.

“Prior to the event, I had complied fully with the government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July,” he said.

EU Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant said that Hogan attended the event “in good faith” and that the arrangements in place did not breach government regulations.

“Allow me also to say that Commissioner Hogan, on a broader note, takes very seriously the Covid-19 rules and regulations,” she said.

“And as an illustration of this, upon his return from Brussels to Ireland for a summer holiday, he had self-isolated himself for 14 days in accordance with local regulations.”

There have been a number of calls for Hogan to issue a full apology, however.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath told RTÉ’s News at One that his statement did not go far enough.

“I think he should go further certainly,” he said. “Not knowing what the rules are is not a defence.”

Fine Gael Senator and leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty called the event a “stunning lapse of judgement” and called on Hogan to apologise to the public for attending.

“The very least that needs to be done is a recognition that it was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened,” she told RTÉ radio. “What I would love to see is an apology.”

This evening, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that Hogan’s position was outside the remit of government, and that his actions were a matter for the European Commission.

A spokesperson for Hogan confirmed tonight that he had returned to Ireland at the end of July and went to Co Kildare. He left Co Kildare on 5 August, two days before the local lockdown was announced for a hospital appointment.

“In the course of that appointment, the Commissioner tested negative for Covid.

“At the conclusion of that appointment, he went to Co Kilkenny for a period of convalescence and this is where he completed his period of quarantine.

“He travelled to the golf event in Co Galway directly from Co Kilkenny.

“Thus, there is no question of him having breached the local lockdown requirements which continue to apply in Co Kildare.”

Séamus Woulfe

stardust-nightclub-fire Seamus Woulfe (file photo) Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe also apologised “unreservedly” for attending the Oireachtas Golf Society event, where he sat at a table with seven other people, including Fine Fáil senator Paul Daly and his wife.

He served as Attorney General under the previous government and was appointed to the Supreme Court by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board last month, just two weeks after leaving his role as AG.

He advised the government on legal matters, including assisting with drafting the Covid-19 emergency laws introduced during the pandemic.

In a statement this afternoon, he claimed he was not aware that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event.

“My understanding was that the organisers and the hotel had satisfied themselves that they would be operating within Government public health guidelines,” he said.

“I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

“That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise.”

Noel Grealish

file-photo-noel-grealish-td-has-apologised-for-attending-the-80-person-dinner-which-led-to-the-resignation-of-minister-dara-calleary-end Independent TD Noel Grealish (file photo) Source: Eamonn Farrell

Independent TD for Galway West Noel Grealish attended as captain of the Oireachtas Golf Society.

In a speech in the Dáil in June, Grealish spoke about the significant impact the pandemic has had in Ireland.

“Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our society and economy,” he said.

“We have many challenges in the weeks and months ahead to get people back to work and the economy back on track as soon as possible.”

In a statement about the event to Galway Bay FM, Grealish said he sat at a table with six people and observed social distancing guidelines.

He also said he was assured that the event met public health guidelines, but accepted that his attendance was an error of judgement and unreservedly apologised.

Senator Jerry Buttimer

90384931 Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer Source: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer was the second politician to resign a senior role in the wake of the event, having first confirmed his attendance at the event after the story broke last night.

This morning, he resigned his role as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, where he was re-appointed as part of the Labour Panel earlier this year.  

The Cork-based politician, who was a TD until 2016, has criticised other public figures on Twitter in recent months for their interpretation of public health advice around Covid-19.

In April, he accused broadcaster Ivan Yates of “irresponsible behaviour”, saying public health measures were “about saving lives… not socialising”.

Then in June, he took aim at Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (who had called for clarity from the government about schools returning), suggesting the Sinn Féin TD was “happy to abandon public health advice”.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Buttimer acknowledged that his attendance at the event compromised the government at a time when people across every sector of society were doing their best to obey government advice and stay safe.

“It was unintended but serious lapse of judgement in attending the event,” he said.

“I should not have attended the dinner and I hereby tender my resignation as Leas Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann to the Cathaoirleach of the 26th Seanad. I apologise unreservedly for my actions this week.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar later confirmed that the party whip had been removed from Buttimer.

Senator Paddy Burke

file-photo-senator-paddy-burke-has-apologised-for-attending-the-80-person-dinner-which-led-to-the-resignation-of-minister-dara-calleary-end Senator Paddy Burke (file photo) Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Fine Gael’s Paddy Burke was recently re-appointed to the Seanad on the Agricultural Panel, where he has served since 1993.

The Mayo-based senator previously served as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad from 2011 to 2016.

He apologised in a statement to the Connacht Telegraph today. 

 ”I attended a function on Wednesday night. The function had been moved from the golf clubhouse to comply with public health guidelines.

“I now realise this was an error of judgement on my behalf and I apologise for that.”

In his statement this morning, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also confirmed that he had removed the party whip from Burke.

Senator John Cummins

Cummins Senator John Cummins Source: RollingNews.ie

Waterford senator John Cummins was also among those whom Varadkar removed the party whip from this morning. 

He was appointed to the Seanad for the first time on the Labour Panel this year, having previously served on Waterford City and County Council since 2009.

He has previously urged followers on his Facebook page to “stay the course and continue to follow the guidance” around Covid-19 and that it is vital for people “to continue to adhere to the medical advice”.

In a statement this morning, he acknowledged that he should not have attended the dinner on Wednesday.

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“I have been so careful in adhering to the public health advice since the start of Covid-19,” he said.

“This was a lapse of judgement on my part which I genuinely apologise unreservedly for.”

Senator Paul Daly

91784751_1532310456946082_2176842841844613120_n Senator Paul Daly Source: Facebook

Daly, a senator on the Agricultural Panel since 2016, was appointed Fianna Fáil party whip and spokesperson on Agriculture in the Seanad by the Taoiseach last month, before having the party whip removed this morning.

He has repeatedly shared updates to the government’s Covid-19 advice on his social media pages, urging followers to maintain social distancing and practice good hygiene and hand-washing.

In a statement on 7 May, he called for flexibility to organisations who could show social distancing, but added that “without a doubt public health takes precedence, and we will be guided by medical professionals”.

This morning, he confirmed his attendance at the golf event in Clifden and apologised.

“I attended the event in the Station House Hotel, Clifden,” he said.

“With the changes to public health advice I should not have done so. As a public representative it was a serious lapse of judgement on my part and I am truly sorry. I apologise unreservedly for the upset I have caused.”

Senator Aidan Davitt

1001087_1280497678669705_7368057862493757167_n Senator Aidan Davitt Source: Facebook

Fianna Fáil senator Davitt, also based in Westmeath, has served on the Industrial and Commercial Panel in the Seanad since 2016.

Last month, he called for special allowances to be made for the GAA to hold matches, telling the Seanad about crowds in the Phoenix Park “enjoying themselves” with alcohol and barbecues in outdoor areas.

“This scenario would be very secure and the GAA would certainly play its part. I have no doubt that it would look at all safety measures possible to ensure it is safe for the patrons,” he said.

He also apologised for his attendance at the event in a statement this morning.

“In light of the updated public health advice issued on Tuesday,I should not have attended this dinner,” he said.

“I genuinely apologise unreservedly for this error of judgement.”

He also had the whip removed from him by Taoiseach Micheál Martin this morning. 

Senator Niall Blaney

87261713_609877056499120_3403804823810736128_n Senator Niall Blaney Source: Facebook

The Donegal senator was the third member of the Fianna Fáil party to lose the whip over his attendance at the event.

He was previously a TD from 2002 to 2011, following his grandfather Neal Blaney, his uncle Neil Blaney, and his father Harry Blaney in the Dáil.

After a break in politics, Blaney was reappointed to the Seanad on the Agricultural Panel this year.

At the start of the pandemic, he called on the government to close pubs, clubs and restaurants to prevent crowds from gathering in them and stop gardaí having to close them down.

“We don’t need to board ourselves up in houses but we should be making good use of open spaces and use social media and phones to keep socialising and keeping in touch with loved ones, friends and family,” he said.

In an interview with the Donegal Daily following his re-appointment, he also said he was looking forward to returning to politics and that he was “prepared to take whatever decisions … in the best interests of people” as a politician.

Blaney issued a statement this morning saying he should not have been at the event.

“I am sincerely sorry for this error in judgement and apologise unreservedly,” he said.

“I am very conscious of the enormous effort by people to battle this virus and keep everyone safe. My attendance was therefore wrong and I apologise.”

Others

file-photo-sean-orourke-also-attended-the-80-person-dinner-which-led-to-the-resignation-of-minister-dara-calleary-end Former RTÉ broadcaster Sean O'Rourke Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

A number of other people have also been confirmed as attending the event, with some issuing their own statements.

Former RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke, who retired from the broadcaster in May, was named in the original story as having been at the dinner.

In a number of tweets today O’Rourke said he accepted the invitation to attend to play golf.

“To those of you wondering what if I was still asking the questions rather than facing them I just want to say: You’re right. I should not have been at the dinner in Clifden on Wednesday. I don’t have a defence,” he said.

Former Independent TD Paudge Connolly, who now sits on Monaghan County Council, also confirmed that he attended the event on the Joe Finnegan Show on local station Northern Sound.

“I’m not going to announce a retirement this morning or a resignation or that kind of thing,” he said.

“It’s something that I will mull upon for the next couple of days. And if I find that there’s a call out there to resign, I certainly would have no issue.”

Businessman and former Fianna Fáil politician Donie Cassidy – the president of the society – was also at the dinner.

He told the Westmeath Independent: “I would like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the Oireachtas Golf Society Committee for the hurt caused. It was not our intention to disregard Government or Health authorities advice.

“I have been legally advised not to make any further comment at this time. I confirm that I will fully cooperate with the Garda Investigation.”

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